CEDAR RAPIDS — Emails sent to city staff and members of the Cedar Rapids City Council overwhelmingly show opposition to a developer’s request to build a 45-unit, low-income apartment complex with some space set aside for the homeless.
City officials received dozens of emails regarding a request for rezoning from St. Paul, Minnesota-based CommonBond Communities, which wants to build the $9 million Crestwood Ridge Apartments at 1200 Edgewood Road NW. The project is backed by an $8 million tax credit from the Iowa Finance Authority because it includes five units set aside for the homeless and support services.
“It’s a lot compared to what’s normal, and definitely more against than supportive,” said Ann Poe in describing the volume of correspondence received on the matter. Poe added she also received phone calls and talked directly to a few people. “Cedar Rapids is a community made up of neighborhoods. What I heard is it’s a good project, but just not in our neighborhood. So where do you put it?”
Months after being rejected by the City Planning Commission, the matter is scheduled for a public hearing and possibly a first vote during a regular City Council meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. Poe said she can’t guess how the vote might shake out.
In order for the rezoning to be granted a three-quarters majority vote of the City Council is needed. That’s because so many of the neighboring residents are opposing the project. In fact, a second batch of signatures has been submitted on a petition against the project, bringing the total to 556 signatures.
A previous review by The Gazette found most council members support the project, but it did not appear to have enough votes to pass.
Susie Weinacht, who initially announced she was recusing herself due to an unspecified board relationship, said Tuesday she received legal clarification and now plans to vote on the matter. She had previously said she supports the project.
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“I serve on the board of the Housing Fund for Linn County, and that non-profit board has voted to award funding to this project,” Weinacht said. “I was concerned that my vote as part of that board may impact my ability to vote on the issue. I’ve since been able to clarify the legal and ethical issues, and neither I nor any of my family members will derive any direct or indirect financial impact from my vote.”
Council member Kris Gulick is recusing himself due to a financial relationship. The measure needs six “yes” votes out of eight possible votes to pass.
The emails, which were obtained upon request by The Gazette, illustrate the reasons why people either support or oppose the project, including concerns about living next to a low-income housing complex, traffic and stormwater drainage. Many of the emails were duplicated to multiple officials.
Here’s a sampling:
“Before casting your vote on the future of this complex, I urge that you drive Crestwood Road, from Edgewood to Wiley Boulevard, and note the narrowness of this road. Also note the hill which blocks vision for drivers just west of the proposed complex location. Try to picture where sidewalks could be added along Crestwood to accommodate children walking to Jackson Elementary School. Little room exists without infringing greatly on the properties (and the drainage) west of this proposed project.”
— Boyd and Diane Severson
“Much discussion has been made about the proximity and availability of ‘retail,’ whereas the closest services are a Popeyes and a liquor store; no nearby grocery stores and no places for children to play safely. Growing our city should mean attracting reasonable paying jobs and industry, which really aid our tax base and grow the quality of life for our city, while at the same time, refrain from altering existing neighborhoods dramatically as well as negatively impacting our city services.”
— Laurie Schubert
“Please vote ‘No’ on Crestwood Ridge. It is too big, too many units for small lot, no sidewalks for pedestrians, unsafe corner without traffic light, water runoff.”
— Susan Kullander
“We assume you are familiar with the city’s own traffic estimates, which conclude that, if the project were built, it would result in 8 to 10 more cars in the traffic patterns, even at peak hours. We hope that as leader of the council and more importantly of all of us in the city, you are willing to re-examine the data which already exists addressing your concerns, and if necessary, seek new data from appropriate sources. If, after doing so, you still cannot in conscience support this proposal, we look to you as our city’s leader to expeditiously help CommonBond find another location on which to build this very worthwhile project — one our adult son (on the autism spectrum) could benefit from after we are gone.”
— Jim and Ann Dunnigan
“Speaking as a landlord, and business owner, I wish the very few neighbors surrounding this location would open their minds, hearts and ears to what a great thing this really is for the location, the land and our community. If I owned a home in this area, and were faced with this land being used in the way Crestwood Ridge has purposed vs. it becoming something of a commercial nature, I know Crestwood Ridge would be my first choice.”
— Jason Vestweber, a real estate agent and board member of Willis Dady
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“ ... This program will not work here the way all these well intentioned people would have you think. It is almost always about the money. Non-profits are moneymakers for someone. The fact that those associated state that only 5 apartments “at this time” are slated for the homeless, the abused, etc. is only leaving the door open to filling the building with other people down on their luck. I have seen this many times before. What usually results is a new ‘hood/ghetto’ type area is created where a blossoming neighborhood once existed.”
— James Seaborn
“We are asking that you look beyond this simply as an opportunity for the city to sell its property, to rather looking at the genuine concerns of hundreds of current Cedar Rapids residents, that will be directly affected by potential water issues, increased traffic and safety issues, property value concerns, school issues, and other unforeseen issues that may result from approving the project in this location.”
— Ron and Janean Pennington
“I want to address a couple of topics related to Crestwood Ridge that have been voiced recently. The first is on property values, and that affordable housing will lower them for neighbors. As you can see from the attached summary document, there have been many studies on this topic and the overwhelming result is that well-constructed affordable housing has a positive, or at least neutral impact. An idea has been raised that we should consider moving the site to another location. I want to make it clear that our financing award from the Iowa Finance Authority is site-specific and cannot be changed.”
— Justin Eilers, CommonBond Communities
“I do not wish to have low-income and homeless housing mere feet from my front door.”
— Travis Kasper
“This is a project that is sorely needed in Cedar Rapids where housing is so expensive. I know because I help support a person who cannot afford the local rents.”
— Charles R. Crawley
“My main concern is traffic. I know there are tranquil times on the road, but during rush hour, morning and afternoon, the speed limit is not observed. We have lived off Edgewood for 37 years and have been rear ended four times, so we had to change our routes to avoid being hit. I believe there has to be a better location. The city owns a lot of vacant property.”
— John Hernandez
“My concern is that the northern part of SW side and south part of NW side has a high percentage of lower income areas. This is mobile home courts and large apartment complexes. There is a large complex on 16th Avenue, one over by Westdale Mall, Wilson Avenue by New Life Fitness Center, others. Businesses look at per capita income when deciding where to put a business and I don’t see much growth on our side of town. The 2nd issue is crime. Certainly I don’t think that all lower income people cause crime, but I think it is true that a higher percentage of crime arises from the circumstances surrounding low income.”
— Dave Haman
“I have worked at The Meadows for seven years; the last almost four years have been under the ownership of CommonBond. I can tell you that CommonBond has very strong values and really cares about going beyond just providing housing. I get materials and support on how to help my residents beyond just providing a safe, clean place to live. Their mission and values are frequently reiterated to employees and the company takes great pride in the accomplishments of their residents.
— Amy Barnum, property manager at the Meadows
“It is not an area that 45 more cars and 90 tenants can occupy. I encourage you to drive out and sit at this corner at 7:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. NO ONE can get across Edgewood during these times. There is a hill to the left that cars speed down to try and make the next light. In the winter — no one can stop to make a right turn as it is so slick.”
— Gail Maiers